Becoming a Centurion | David Byrne

Written by David Byrne.

When I first began my trail running journey it was thanks to the inspiration provided when working at Ultra-Trail Australia as part of a film crew. At the time it had been many years since I had been a runner (In a former life I was a middle distance track athlete) and I was a hefty 65 kilograms…yep, it’s still pathetically light but for me it was some 7kg above race weight!  As I stood in awe of these superhumans that were conquering the mountain trails I thought to myself that this is something I would someday love to do. So not long after I dusted off my old joggers and started pounding the pavements of Sydney. This was back at the end of 2013. It took six months or so to find some fitness and before long I was toeing the line at various trail races in the Blue Mountains west of the city. One good result lead to another and my newfound motivation kept growing, so to did the distances I was running. Always in the back of my mind was the goal of giving 100km a shake.

The tipping point for me eventually taking the plunge was seeing a video online of Tarawera Ultra Marathon in all its glory. It wasn’t just the amazing field of competitors it attracted or the spectacular location, but that it looked to me to be a complete package. It was an event that was as much about your experience of the local culture and environment, as it was about the challenge and subsequent reward of completing the race itself. I figured that if I was going to finally do the seemingly impossible task of hauling my frame around such a vast distance, that I wanted to do it at an event that took the journey to a whole new level – and Tarawera sure didn’t disappoint!

For a first time 100km runner Tarawera is about as ideal an event you can find. Don’t get me wrong, for the experienced ultra runners out there it certainly should be right at the top of your list. But for those who are nervous about their ability to make the distance or like me want to do events that offer more than the run itself, Tarawera is perfect. The course is stunning, traversing lush rainforest on groomed trails, single track and forestry roads. It’s relatively flat, so there are none of those ominous mountains that your dread throughout the day. However the smooth profile and nice underfoot terrain does mean the intensity is well and truly up! There are loads of friendly volunteers that make life easy as you go through the check in process, and plenty of well-stocked aid stations on the course where once again the volunteers make you smile as you’re battling your way through the day. The race aside, in the lead up to the big event there are all sorts of fun activities you can partake in. A cruise on a lake to see parts of the course, a traditional Maori welcome, pre-race yoga and even a rogaine with dogs! To cap the whole thing off there’s also an incredible celebration dinner.

My experience in 2016 when I finally became a centurion will be something I’ll never forget. From the moment I arrived in Rotorua and breathed in the sulphur rich air I was full of excitement and nervous anticipation. Walking through the expo and watching the athlete Q and A added to my eagerness to run. Standing on the start line in light drizzle as the Maori’s danced and headlamps flickered was a surreal experience. Then finally when the race began there was a wave of energy as the huge field set off into the darkness. For me it was a relief to get underway. Immediately the nerves disappeared and I found myself totally immersed in the moment. As the day progressed I was racing hard but still managed to take in the surrounds. Huge redwooods, lush green ferns, creeks, rivers and waterfalls – the course had it all. Though for me the best part was crossing the finish line and hugging race director Paul. He stood there all day and night and everyone that crossed that line got a welcoming embrace from what has to be one of the kindest and most genuinely caring folks you’ll cross paths with.

2018 will be my third trip back to Rotorua. This time around I’m tackling the 100 mile race. Why? Well it gives me even more time to be out and enjoying the awesomeness of New Zealand!­

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